• Asia stocks up but markets cautious ahead of Yellen speech

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    HONG KONG: Asia stocks tilted upwards on Friday, shrugging off a weak lead from Wall Street as oil pulled back below $50 a barrel, but remained cautious ahead of a speech from the US central bank head.

    Comments from a Group of Seven summit meanwhile stressed the importance of global economic growth and stated the potentially disastrous consequences for the economy of Britain’s exit from the EU.

    Traders are now hoping for clues about the prospects of an imminent US rate hike when Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen makes a speech at Harvard University later in the day, after recent hints of an increase in June or July from Fed officials.

    “We are still a little cautious,” Mark Lister, head of private wealth research at Craigs Investment Partners in Wellington, told Bloomberg News.

    “Yellen is likely to continue with the rhetoric of wanting to hike and that’s their plan. Equity markets still offer value on a medium-term basis and it’s certainly the only place where you’re getting any sort of yield.”

    Tokyo stocks rose 0.4 percent on hopes of extra Bank of Japan stimulus measures, which were boosted by data showing Japanese consumer prices fell in April and reports saying a consumption tax hike scheduled for next year will be delayed.

    Hong Kong also reversed earlier losses to close 0.9 percent higher, while Sydney gained 0.3 percent and Seoul added 0.6 percent. But Shanghai ended 0.05 percent lower.

    Energy firms were up and down in Asia despite the price of oil retreating back below $50 a barrel—a key psychological level it passed for the first time this year on Thursday in a sign the global supply glut may be easing.

    In Sydney, Woodside Petroleum was up 0.4 percent but Rio Tinto declined 0.7 percent and BHP Biliton lost 0.2 percent.

    Hong Kong-listed China Shenhua slipped 1.1 percent and Sinopec dropped 0.6 percent, while CNOOC put on 0.8 percent.

    In Tokyo, explorer Inpex surged 3.6 percent by the close and refiner JX Holdings also gained.

    At about 8:15 a.m. local time, US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for July delivery was down to $49.17 a barrel while Brent North Sea crude, the European standard, was at $49.19.

    A final communique from the G7 leaders meanwhile emphasized economic growth was an “urgent priority” and highlighted growing international alarm over the possibility of a ‘Brexit’ as the UK prepares for a June 23 vote on whether to leave the EU.

    “Global growth is our urgent priority,” the G7 said, adding that growth remained “moderate and below potential,” but leaders left the door open for a go-your-own-way approach in a sign of lingering divisions on how to move forward.

    As for the UK’s exit from the 28-country bloc, leaders said it would “reverse the trend towards greater global trade and investment and the jobs they create”, and that it was a “serious risk to growth.”

    UK Prime Minister David Cameron has been campaigning for Britain to stay in the EU, with recent polls suggesting a widening lead for supporters of continued membership.
    AFP

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